(Earth Songs is a series of stories of women in a patriarchal society where they are definitely the second sex, created by a lesser God. But these women are fighters and they usually emerge as winners, though their ways of waging battles are different from men's ways and the price they have to pay for their victory is often great. These women are all like us - of blood and flesh, with our longings and frustrations, with our strengths and weaknesses. But there is magic in every one of them - thrilling, tantalizing magic, through which the sheer beauty of these women sparkle.)
Her husband has been invited to a game of dice in Hastinapura. Invited by Uncle Dhritarashtra and his sons.
He knows their hearts are full of poison. They have recently gone back after spending time in Indraprastha where a glorious rajasuya had just been concluded. Duryodhana had stayed back along with his uncle Shakuni for a few days after the sacrifice was over. Yudhishthira had invited them to.
Not entirely out of charity, she knew, for, there was a purpose in Yudhishthira's heart when he had invited them to stay back ' insisted on it, rather.
Yudhishthira was proud. Proud of the wealth he had been able to acquire in a short while. Proud of the sabha hall he had Maya build for him. Proud of the tributes and gifts that had poured in ceaselessly from all corners of the earth. Proud of the homage kings from all over the world had paid him. Proud of the loyalty of his brothers. Proud of his beautiful wife Krishnaa. Proud of the gifts he had paid to the Brahmins. And proud of the feast he has been offering as part of the rajasuya.
Eighty-eight thousand snatakas had stayed with him during the entire period of the rajasuya and he had given each thirty serving women. Ten thousand other Brahmins were served their meals in plates of pure gold at the palace every day.
The list of kings who had come with gifts from every part of Aryavarta was endless. And those from beyond its borders who had either come in person or sent gifts included the Yavanas, the Romakas, the Chinas, the Shakas, the Vikings and others from across the oceans. Queues of kings who waited at the palace gates stretched for miles. Each had come with carts and elephants loaded with gifts.
The gifts included endless quantities of jewels, gold, gems, other precious stones'elephants, camels, horses, cows, donkeys, sheep' swords, scimitars, hatchets, battle axes, daggers, maces, bows and arrows'chariots, carts, other vehicles'hides of rare animals, priceless blankets inlaid with gold, rare silk'
The gift of the kings from the coastal regions was thousands of exquisite young girls from the Karpasika country, all slender-waisted, of luxuriant hair, decked in gold.
It was acknowledged openly: Yudhishthira's wealth exceeded that of the Himalayas, the oceans, mines of gold and precious jewels and other regions abounding in wealth.
Yudhishthira was basking in glory. Duryodhana had already seen it during the rajasuya. But that was not enough for Yudhishthira. He wanted him to stay back and see it all for a while more. Be devastated by it.
True, perhaps Yudhishthira did not know this was the reason why he had requested his cousin and his uncle to stay back. Perhaps this was a secret hidden deep in his heart. Perhaps he thought he was just doing what he should do ' the closest of relatives and friends were always asked to stay back for a few days more after the festivities were over. That was all he was doing.
But Draupadi could see the real reason clearly. After all, she was his wife. And knew him as no one else did. Knew him more thoroughly than his brothers knew. Knew him more thoroughly than perhaps even he himself knew. Knew him more intimately, more clearly, than he himself did.
Wives were so.
And she had seen the danger coming long before anyone else had.
Of course, as far as the Dhartarashtras are concerned, anything good happening to the Pandavas was wrong. Any happiness coming their way was wrong. Any respect paid to them by anyone was wrong. Well, as far as they were considered the very existence of Pandavas was wrong. Their cousins did not have even the right to exist.
So the rajasuya performed by Yudhishthira was wrong. Kings paying tributes to them was wrong. Their wealth was wrong. The sabha at indraprastha, which rivalled the sabhas of Indra and Kubera and Yama, was wrong. Brahmins praising them and blessing them was wrong. Charanas singing their glories was wrong.
For that there is no real solution. For such sickness of the soul, there is no solution.
But Draupadi knew beyond all these, Yudhishthira had made another error. A costly error. A very costly error. He had asked Duryodhana to be in charge of receiving the gifts pouring in from the thousand kings who wanted to please Yudhishthira.
And gifts had poured in as Duryodhana had never seen before. Endless rows of people waiting with gifts. Each with gifts carried by elephants and chariots. Gifts filled in boxes and bags. There seemed to be no end to the stream of gifts.
Duryodhana had to take rest several times a day, so exhausted was he just by receiving them. And yet the gifts kept pouring in. From the Keralaputras in the extreme south. From the Pragjyotishas in the east. From Gandhara and even beyond in the west. From the Himalayan kingdoms and lands beyond in the north. And from all over the land in between.
The gifts from the Yavanas, the Romakas, the Chinas, the Shakas, the Vikings ' those faraway people ' were as rich, as varied, and as unique as the people themselves were.
And Duryodhana was receiving it all.
Each gift sent a dart piercing deep into his heart. Each gift was an arrow shot deep into his innermost being. Each gift reduced the shine on his face. Until he turned dark. His whole being had turned black.
Krishnaa had seen that. And Krishnaa had seen danger in the eyes of Duryodhana every time their eyes met. Lightning flashes of danger.
Duryodhana had tried to hide it as best as he could. But he had always been poor at hiding his feelings. He was transparent.
If Yudhishthira had, albeit unconsciously, wanted to incite the jealousy of his cousin, he had succeeded totally.
And then the nephew and the uncle had gone back.
In their heart they had carried another memory from Indraprastha, too. A memory different from the memory of the wealth and glory of the Pandavas.
In the sabha Maya had made, Duryodhana had mistaken water for the floor and stepped right into it. And he had mistaken solid ground for water and lifted the hems of his clothes to walk through. He had bumped into solid walls where he thought he saw doors. And had sought for doors that were right in front of him, but which he had missed.
Maya's sabha was a palace of illusions.
And every time he had made a mistake, laughter had accosted him from all sides. Mirth-filled laughter. Ridiculing laughter. Reverberating laughter. Laughter that went straight into his heart and drew blood.
And, apart from the male laughter, there was also female laughter. The haunting, carefree laughter of Krishnaa. Exhilarated, enraptured laughter. Laughter that he felt defied him. Laughter that he felt made him look like a fool, like a child.
Krishnaa's laughter was a storm throwing its defiant challenge to the mighty trees. Was a tidal wave rushing fearlessly to engulf the shore. Was the mountain brook dashing intoxicated against the mountain in its path.
Wild and intoxicating. Maddening.
Women shouldn't laugh like that. They had no right to.
Perhaps he would have loved that laughter had its owner been his. Perhaps he would have adored it then. He would have bathed again and again it its glory ' perhaps.
But she was not his.
She was theirs.
He had failed to make her his.
And she had not allowed Karna to win her for him either.
Karna could have won her for him. But she hadn't allowed him to, not allowed Karna to. She had called him the son of the charioteer. Said she would not marry the son of a charioteer.
And then Arjuna had won her.
Arjuna who he had been sure was dead. Arjuna who he had been sure he had killed. Killed by setting fire to the house of lac in which he, his brothers and his mother were staying.
The Pandavas had escaped. Against all his calculations. And then appeared at Kampilya to frustrate his plans again.
To win her and make her theirs.
He had carried the memory of the laughter of the Pandavas in his heart back to Hastinapura. And he had carried the memory of her laughter in his heart.
Back to his home.
Back to his lair.
And Krishnaa had known danger was coming.
And it had come very soon.
It came in the form of an invitation to a game of dice. A game of dice in the newly built hall at Hastinapura.
The hall had been built specifically for the game of dice.
And the Pandavas were invited to visit the hall and also to play a game of dice there.
Vidura, whom they called Kshatta, had brought the message.
'Don't accept it,' Kshatta had said.
'It is a trap,' Kshatta had said.
Kshatta because of whom the Pandavas were alive today. Kshatta the only one who loved them and cared for them unreservedly in Hastinapura.
And Kshatta had said: 'Don't accept it. It is a trap.'
'But I have decided to accept it,' said Yudhisthira. 'Yudhisthira does not reject an invitation to a game of dice. Not ever.'
'But the game will not be fair.'
'Duryodhana will cheat. Shakuni will cheat.'
'You will lose your kingdom. You will lose all you have made in these years.'
'They will rob you of everything and send you to the streets empty handed.'
All the four brothers tried to persuade their eldest.
No one had ever been able to persuade Yudhisthira unless he wanted to be persuaded.
Krishnaa knew this.
Yet she tried to persuade him.
'Perhaps'perhaps' she had thought.
Of course no one ever persuaded Yudhisthira unless he wanted to be persuaded.
And they had gone. Gone to Hastinapura knowing full well what was going to happen.
They had started on a gloomy day when the wind refused to blow and the sky seemed to be full of foreboding.
Krishnaa's right eye had begun twitching as she got ready to start. Looking out she had seen a giant vulture perched on the flagpole. As they left the palace gates behind, a donkey had suddenly appeared from among the trees on one side and, braying incessantly, had crossed the royal path and bolted to the other side. Not far from the palace, they had come across a man carrying raw hide on his shoulders. A thousand crows on the trees lining the royal road had set up a cacophony.
She had seen evil omens all around her as they progressed.
But Krishnaa did not need evil omens to tell her what was going to happen.
She knew it. Knew it without a shadow of doubt.
She did not try again to persuade Yudhishthira not to proceed. She knew it was useless.
The reception they were given at Hastinapura was grand. An entire wing of the palace was given for their stay.
The brothers did not talk. Krishnaa did not talk. There was silence among them.
Music and songs filled the emptiness of their silences.
Duryodhana wanted them to be surrounded by music and dance. Surrounded by songs and celebrations. By festivities.
He had spared no efforts to make sure it was so.
Krishnaa discovered her monthly periods had begun on arrival at Hastinapura. She quietly retired to the inner apartments.
She would be spending the next three days alone there.
Alone in the solitude of the inner apartments. Alone and lonely.
While her fate was decided in the dice hall. While her future was decided by her men. By Yudhisthira, to be exact.
Or by Duryodhana and Shakuni, to be more exact.
But of course, there was nothing to decide.
She knew it. Knew it without a shadow of doubt.
In the morning she learned how the brothers had spent the night. Spent the most fateful night of their life.
After the evening feast was over and the brothers had entered their apartments, pleasure women had followed them into their chambers.
And these women had sung. And danced. And served them drinks. Long into the night.
And then these women, each an expert in the arts of love, had pleasured the brothers. Pleasured them in ways only women of pleasure knew how to.
The night had been quite old when the brothers, exhausted, fell asleep.
Krishnaa did not say a word. She did not want to.
She did not want to see their faces.
She couldn't have, of course. It was forbidden for women to look at their men, to be near them, to interact with them in any way, when they were having their periods, before they had had their ritual baths after their periods.
Her women brought her news of what was happening in the dice hall.
Shakuni was playing on behalf of Duryodhana. Yudhisthira had stated this was against the rules of the dice but had agreed to play anyway.
And then Yudhisthira had lost the first wager: A necklace made of rare pearls from the depths of the sea. The very best of Yudhishthira's necklaces.
And then he had lost the second wager: His inexhaustible treasury of gold and silver, countless boxes, each filled with a thousand gold coins.
And then he had lost the third wager: His royal chariot, equal to a thousand chariots, which runs with the speed of the wind, producing a roar like that of a sea in fury, drawn by eight snow-white horses, selected from among the very best in the world.
And then a fourth wager: A hundred thousand young, beautiful serving girls, all in their early youth, each decked in gold and other ornaments, each a mistress of the sixty-four arts that please men.
And then a hundred thousand young serving men'then a thousand mighty elephants with gold girdles and ornaments'a thousand special chariots with gold flagpoles'all the peerless Gandharva, Tittiri and Kalmasha steeds Arjuna had won from Chitraratha'ten thousand more chariots'sixty thousand selected soldiers'wealth in millions and trillions'countless cows, bulls, horses, goat, sheep'all his lands, cities, the whole country, all his subjects'the ornaments on his brothers'
And then he had said: 'I now wager my Sahadeva.'
And lost him.
And then he had said: 'I now wager my Nakula.'
And lost him.
And then he had said: 'I now wager my Arjuna.'
And lost him.
And then he had said: 'I now wager my Vrikodara.'
And lost him.
And then he had wagered himself.
And lost himself.
'I have nothing more left to wager,' he had said.
'Of course you have,' Shakuni had reminded him. 'You have the beautiful princess of Panchala, your wife.'
And he had wagered her.
Yudhisthira had wagered his wife Krishnaa Draupadi in the game of dice.
The kings who had been specially invited for the game as guests were in utter shock. The elders of the Kurus and the acharyas were in utter shock. 'Shame, shame,' they muttered.
Then silence prevailed in the assembly. The whole assembly sat in silence, stunned, stupified. Even the Dhartarashtras, Duryodhana and his brothers and his friend Karna, were silent. Even they could not believe this had happened.
The world seemed to have come to a shocked silence.
Then the silence was broken by the excited, whispering voice of Dhritarashtra. He was asking the same question he had asked each time Yudhisthira had wagered something.
'Has the wager been won yet?'
And then the sound of the dice falling was heard, followed by the booming voice of Shakuni declaring once again, 'Lo, I have won it.'
When the old pratihari came, Krishnaa was ready.
She hadn't expected this.
She had expected Yudhisthira to lose all his wealth and prepared herself to it. She had expected Yudhisthira to lose all their possessions and prepared herself to it. She had expected Yudhisthira to lose their kingdom and prepared herself to it.
But she hadn't expected her husband to wager his brothers. She hadn't expected him to wager himself.
And she hadn't expected him to wager her.
But still she was ready.
Her world had collapsed completely around her. She had been beaten. Beaten beyond her wildest fears. She hadn't imagined even in her worst nightmares what Yudhisthira had done to her.
But she was going to maintain her dignity to the end. She the sacrifice-born daughter of king Drupada, the wedded wife of the five Pandavas, was going to keep her dignity to the end.
She was ready.
'Go back and ask them if I was wagered before my husband lost himself or after that,' she told him.
'Ask the slave to come here and ask the question herself,' came the reply.
'Go and ask the gambler if he lost me before he himself became a slave or after it.' She sent the pratihari back again.
And then Dushshasana himself came.
There was intoxication in his eyes ' the intoxication of victory. There was rapture in his eyes ' the rapture of victory.
And there were other feelings in them. Feelings that terrified her. Feelings that sent shivers down her spine. Feelings that drained all energy away from her body.
Lust. Raging lust. Madness. Raving madness. Insanity. Evil. Vicious evil. Depravity. Degeneracy. Hunger. Shameless, depthless, insane, fiendish hunger.
His were eyes from the dark depths of hell where nothing was sacred, nothing was forbidden.
Terrified she joined her palms before her and pleaded.
Those palms had never before been joined together in abject misery. They had never been joined together like this except in prayer to the almighty and in homage to the elders.
Terrified, she joined her palms together and pleaded to be left alone. And in her agony, in her utter helplessness, mentioned the unmentionable. 'I am in my season,' she confessed. 'See, I am clad in a single piece of cloth.'
'Season or no season, clad in a single piece of cloth or no cloth at all, I'm taking you to the hall,' she heard the booming voice declaring.
Terrified she turned around and fled. Fled towards the chambers in which lived the other ladies, the ladies of Dhritarashtra's household.
She heard the sound of running feet behind her and fled like a streak of lightning ' a streak of sparkling, dark lightning.
Primal fear gave her wings. That most ancient of a woman's fears.
But then a powerful hand caught her. Caught her by her hair trailing behind her and pulled her and dragged her towards the door. And then across the door. And across corridors. And across open spaces. While she fought and pleaded. While she begged and screamed. While she tried to hold to herself her cloth that was slipping away again and again.
The wind was still again. Dark clouds had covered the sky. A shocked sun had disappeared from the firmament. Darkness covered the earth ' sinister darkness.
And the powerful man dragged the helpless woman on, holding her by her hair.
She was in the hall now. She looked at her husbands.
There was terror in her eyes. There was pleading in her eyes. And there was fire in her eyes.
Not one of the five pairs of eyes faced hers.
Not one word was spoken by any of the five mighty men she had wedded in the five ceremonies that were performed on five successive days in Kampilya, with fire as their witness.
Kshatta's was the only voice of protest. He was asked to keep quiet or get out.
'Slave, slave,' shouted Dushshasana as he began dragging her again towards the slave quarters.
'The ways of dharma are too subtle,' said Bheeshma in a voice which she noticed was quaking for the first time. 'I am not able to decide what is right and what is wrong.'
Krishnaa's soul wept.
And her mind revolted. Reviled. Subtle are the ways of dharma indeed! A woman is brought dragged by her hair into the middle of that august assembly and for Bheeshma subtle are the ways of dharma.
For this, Grandfather, you shall pay with your life!
It doesn't matter that woman is a princess whose face even the sun and the moon hadn't seen before. It does not matter that the only occasion that woman has been seen by men other than her husband was on the day she stood up in her swayamvara hall to choose a husband for herself. It does not matter that that woman was in her periods and clad in a single piece of cloth. It does not matter if that woman is your own vadhu, a bride of the Bharatas, and you are the senior-most Bharata present here. It does not matter she is your granddaughter-in-law. It does not matter that her own husbands and their cousins are sitting and watching, apart from invited kings from several countries.
Let her be just a woman. Any woman. And a man had brought her dragging her by her hair into the middle of the assembly. A man was forcing his will upon a woman in public.
You are a kshatriya.
And you don't know what dharma is! You don't know your dharma!
You don't know if she is a slave or not. So you don't know your dharma!
What if she is a slave? What then?
Isn't your dharma clear even if she were a slave?
For this, Grandfather, son of Shantanu, you shall pay with your life.
And all posterity will call you a coward.
A confused, old, helpless coward, afraid of his own evil grandson.
Krishnaa looked at Acharya Drona and the great guru avoided her eyes. For he knew what his dharma was and yet did not have the courage to stand up for it.
For this cowardice of yours, great acharya, you shall pay with your life.
Krishnaa looked at Acharya Kripa and the acharya sat with his eyes fixed at his feet. For he too was but a coward deep in his heart and dared not to speak. Krishnaa's eyes would enter his soul through his eyes and find the coward hiding there, Kripa knew.
One by one Krishnaa's eyes sought the eyes of all the elders in the assembly and none had the courage to face the eyes of this pleading, innocent woman who was being humiliated by a bunch of wicked men in the middle of that august assembly. Cowards they all were ' one and all.
It was then that the voice of justice spoke through a totally unexpected mouth ' that of Vikarna, a younder brother of Duryodhana's. Vikarna declared what was going on was evil and Draupadi was not a slave since she was wagered after Yudhisthira had lost himself.
The sabha applauded him.
But Karna called him a child and asked him to sit down, his mouth shut. When elders spoke children had no right to open their mouths.
But where elders kept their mouths shut? This was not a case of elders speaking, but of elders keeping their mouths shut. Vikarna had spoken because none of the elders had responded to the pleadings of Krishnaa.
'The woman standing in our midst is a whore,' thundered Karna.
This was the most evil day in Karna's life. Born noble, Karna was denied the privileges of birth and lineage. Fate had snatched them away from him. Yet he had triumphed over fate by his nobility, by his courage, by his generosity, by his mastery of archery. The whole world said this son of a charioteer was equal to Arjuna himself in his skill of archery, equal to Shibi in charity, the Sun himself in glory, and an equal to Indra in fearlessness. Yet today his behavior had sunk below the level of the common man on the street, below the level of a common drunkard watching a drunken squabble on the street. Today Karna was without nobility, without charity, without greatness. He had sunken into the lowest dust. There was not a noble bone in him today, no redeeming feature in his behavior. For what he was doing today, his ancestors shall forever be ashamed of him.
For his sins today, this friend of Duryodhana shall pay with his life.
For this, Karna, you will pay with your life.
'That woman there is a whore, a common whore,' declared Karna pointing his beautiful finger at Krishnaa. 'She is a whore because she sleeps with five men. And any woman who sleeps with five men is a common whore.'
The Dice Hall was stunned.
'And I say, Dushshasana, take away even that single cloth she is wearing. For, she doesn't deserve it. A slave has no claims to modesty. A whore has no claims to modesty either. And she is both a slave and a whore.'
The Dice hall couldn't believe what it was hearing.
Krishnaa felt she could reach out and touch the hatred that filled the hall. It was like a physical presence. Evil, noxious, lethal, sinister, fiendish. The intensity of it sent shivers through her.
'Why the hesitation, Dushshasana?' roared Karna again. 'Take that common whore's cloth away. Denude that new slave of ours right here in the assembly.
The price for your words today, Karna, shall be death and eternal shame for you.
Dushshasana caught hold of Draupadi's cloth and started pulling at it.
Krishnaa could not believe this was happening. She the sacrifice-born princess, the pet of King Drupada, the adored sister of Shikhandin and Dhrishtadyumna, the darling of the entire Panchala, the wife of the five Pandava brothers, the queen of Indraprastha, has been brought into an assembly of kings and nobles dragged by her hair. She who had faced a similar assembly of men only once before in her life during her swayamvara, was now in the middle of these nobles, while in her periods, clad in one cloth. And Dushshasana was pulling even that cloth away from her!
Was it really happening? Or was this all a mere hallucination? Was this a nightmare from which she will soon wake up to find that nothing has changed, everything was as before, that she was still the queen of Indraprastha, that her husbands were still masters of a rich and powerful kingdom, that the dice game had never happened?
But she knew the answer. Dushshasana's powerful hands were pulling her cloth away from her. Duryodhana and Karna were laughing in uncontrollable mirth.
'Slave, slave!' Words that horrified her. 'Whore, whore!' Words that were like whiplashes on bare flesh.
She held the cloth tightly to herself.
Her eyes were roving mad in despair. Filled with mortal dread she looked frantically all around. This was worse than death. Yes, she would have preferred to die, rather than being denuded in this assembly, being subjected to what they were doing to her.
But, no. She was not going to give up. She was not going to lose to brute force, to insolent might. She was a kshatrani. Born to fight. Born to win. She doesn't give up life's battles.
And there was unfinished work left. Dushshasana will have to pay ' pay with his life for what he was doing to her. Duryodhana will have to pay. Karna will have to pay.
Bheeshma will have to pay and Drona will have to pay. Pay with their lives. And the blind Dhritarashtra will have to pay ' with the loss of the lives of all he loved. 'Has the wager been won?' he had asked again and again, every time something new was wagered. He too will have to pay.
'Slave, whore,' shouted Dushshasana as he tried to free her cloth from her hands that were clasping it to herself.
She held on with all her might. Looking once again into the eyes of the men in the assembly. Her husbands. Bheeshma. Drona. Others.
Her eyes met no other eyes. Except the eyes of Dushshasana, Duryodhana and Karna. Lust filled eyes. Perverted eyes. Mad eyes. Mocking eyes. Eyes that had gone insane with depravity. Eyes that exulted in their sheer power over her.
And she knew no help was coming.
The world had begun to reel. Everything was moving in a haze, in an incredibly fast haze. The whole world was going round and round. And she was finding it more and more difficult to stand on her feet.
She held the cloth all the more tightly to herself. Her whole past was unrolling before her as in a fast drama, as before the eyes of a dying man. She saw her father, her brothers'
And then from among the faces one face became clear. Another dark face like hers. A handsome face. An irresistibly beautiful face. A face full of power. A face untouched by wickedness, untouched by corruption, untouched by weaknesses. A face that made promises. Untold promises. Promises that were whispered direct to your heart.
Promises that were made directly to your soul.
Those inviting, irresistible eyes. Eyes from which the smile never seemed to leave. Eyes that held you by their magnetic power. Eyes that could be flowers in one moment and diamonds in the other. Eyes that hid immense power. Eyes that could command the very elements of the earth.
The eyes of a yogeshwara.
A man who shared her name. And a million other things with her.
And she surrendered to that man. Surrendered to his strength. Surrendered to his power. Surrendered to his promises.
And immediately felt herself letting go. Felt herself relaxing. Felt a sense of relaxation flooding her. Felt herself surrendering to that relaxation.
Felt power surging through her. Power she knew was enough to make any enemy bend his knees. Power she knew was enough to make any enemy powerless.
It was a different kind of power. Not the kind of power that Dushshasana was exerting over her. Not even the kind of power that Bheema possessed. But a different kind of power. A very different kind of power. A totally different kind of power.
A power that won victories without fighting a battle.
She felt an ecstasy filling her. A rapture surging through her. Felt as though she was being born afresh. Coming into being, coming into existence, for the first time.
Suddenly the word alive had a different meaning. Suddenly she knew what it was to live.
Perhaps she had felt this before. A long time ago. She could not remember when but she was sure she had felt this before. Known this feeling before. This sense of being alive. Just alive. Being one with life. One with the world. One with existence.
The oceans were not different from her. The sky and the sun and the moon and the stars were not different from her. The mountains were not different from her. And the trees and shrubs and the grass were not different from her. The animals and the fishes and the trillion creatures were not different from her. They all shared a common existence with her.
She was their existence.
The sleepy infant suckling serenely at its mother's breast as the young mother rested in a contented ecstasy ' it was she.
The little village girl feeling the thrill of the first drop of rain on her as she slowly whirls around in the rain ' it was she.
The tender young woman wearing that thin white cloth and bathing under the waterfall ' it was she.
She was the beautiful princess who parted the curtains of her palanquin to give a smile to the little fawn who came gambolling and stood watching some distance.
She was the tall young man with a wiry body sleeping contentedly in his boat as it floated serenely down the Ganga.
She was the rapturous young woman in her young lover's strong arms swooning in the power of their passion.
She was the small child standing on her father's feet and laughing in wild pleasure as he tossed her up and down.
She was the sole pink bud on the bank of the mountain lake standing in still ecstasy as the butterfly hovered over it. She was the green parrot with the red beak perched on that dry tree while rain clouds moved serenely in the distance. She was the heady fragrance of burning camphor that filled the tiny shrine on the mountain slope, the intoxicating scent of lemon blossoms in the little garden in the heart of the valley. She was the haunting music of the flute that filled the valley.
And then she suddenly realized it ' that smiling dark face, those irresistible eyes, they were hers.
It was she who had been carried in a basket across the Yamuna that storm-torn night! It was she who had stolen fresh butter from Yashoda's pots in Vraja! It was she who had killed Putana, who had subdued Kaliya, who had played on her flute on the banks of the Yamuna maddening all of Vraja, who had danced with the cowherd girls in Vrindavana all night long. It was she who had killed Kansa, Shishupala.
She felt the power of the Sudarshana in her hand.
She had the power to annihilate. And she had the power to create. Unmesha-nimishotpanna-vipanna-bhuvanavali. As she opened her eyes, universes came into being, and as she closed them they dissolved back into her.
And then the tumult reached her. Excited, ecstatic voices were shouting all around her. There seemed to be a million voices. All filled with thrill, with wonder, with disbelief.
What were they shouting?
And then she heard it.
'A miracle! Look, a miracle! A miracle has happened!'
She slowly opened her eyes.
She had no idea when she had closed them.
She was still in the hall, she found.
Instantly she clutched her cloth to herself.
When had she let go of it?
But Dushshasana was no more pulling it away!
Where is he?
She looked around.
Lying all around her was a huge, huge pile of clothes. Clothes in myriad hews. Fine clothes. Beautiful clothes. Endless clothes. All around her. And she was standing in the middle of it all. Still clad in her single piece of cloth.
And at her feet sat Dushshasana. Tired, sweating, his eyes wild with another kindness of madness. The madness of incomprehension. And the fury of helplessness.
Govinda had come to her! Her Govinda! Her Krishna!
Closing her eyes, she once again lost herself in the ecstasy of it.
And then, opening her eyes, she stepped out of the pile of clothes.
'Get up, Dusshasana! Take the slave Krishnaa to the inner apartments!' It was Karna's voice.
She couldn't believe it! They were not finished with her yet!
'Wait,' Krishnaa said as Dushshasana began to pull her towards the door of the hall.
'There is a duty I have to perform to this august assembly, to the elders here. I could not do it when I came here first. I know the fault was not entirely mine. For I was in no condition to do it then.'
Dushshasana let go of Krishnaa. Clad in her soiled cloth, Draupadi stood erect and proud before the assembly of kings and elders. Her eyes were serene. Clad in that one piece of soiled cloth, she still looked an embodiment of poise and dignity, of feminine beauty and grace.